Indian tennis player Sania Mirza has said winning the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award is a 'huge honour' that will push her further to do well on the professional tour and next year's Rio Olympic Games.
The Khel Ratna, India's highest sporting honour, is another addition to an accomplishment-filled year for Mirza, who teamed up with Swiss legend Martina Hingis to win four titles this season, including Wimbledon, and rise to world number one in the women's doubles rankings.
"I would not like to pick any and say one was a bigger achievement than the other. It is a simply a huge honour to get this award. It has been an amazing year so far, becoming the world number one and winning the Wimbledon of course," Mirza told PTI after receiving the award from President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday.
On how the award would inspire her, Mirza said, "This has been my best year. I got number one position and won a Grand Slam. I want to raise the bar higher and higher."
The 28-year-old beat competition from squash player Dipika Pallikal, discus thrower Vikas Gowda, athlete Tintu Luka, badminton player PV Sindhu, men's hockey captain Sardar Singh and paralympian athlete HN Girisha to win the award.
But Mirza's Khel Ratna wasn't without controversy. Her recommendation was challenged by Girisha, who filed a plea challenging Mirza's selection in the Karnataka High Court, which then sent notices to the Sports Ministry and the tennis player herself.
Asked about controversies year after year in the National Sports Awards, Mirza refused to comment.
Mirza said she is looking forward to the US Open starting on Monday. The US open organisers, taking into consideration Mirza's award, have delayed her first-round doubles match to allow the Indian enough time to travel to New York and prepare for the season's final major.
Talking about the Rio Olympics, the women's doubles world number one said she is not thinking about the Games yet. "As tennis players, we prepare for the upcoming season. I want to do well in Rio but it is too early to talk about the preparation for the event," said Mirza.
"I just set short-term goals and I am not thinking about Rio Olympics. Who knows how I will be in the next few months."
Mirza has won four Grand Slam titles so far. In addition to her Wimbledon win, which was her first Grand Slam in women's doubles, she won the mixed doubles event at the Australian Open in 2009 and at the French Open in 2012, both with India's Mahesh Bhupathi. She was also mixed doubles champion at the US Open last year, with Brazilian partner Bruno Soares.
Mirza has won 13 WTA titles, including a win at the prestigious, season-ending World Tour Finals last year, where only the top eight teams of the season qualify and compete. She won the event with Zimbabwe's Cara Black. She also won a gold medal and a bronze medal at last year's Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
(With inputs from PTI)